Spotlight: An Interview with Sherry Crain Arledge

Portrait of Sherry Arledge, wearing professional attire, with a friendly smile, in a well-lit indoor setting.

Crain Construction has always been a family-oriented company. J.E. Crain started the business during the Depression in 1933. While its name has changed slightly over the years, many of the familiar faces of the original family remained the same. Sherry Crain Arledge is one of those faces. The granddaughter of J.E. Crain, and daughter of J.T. Crain, Sherry worked at the company for 35 years and was the third generation of Crains to build a career with the firm. 

 

The Early Years 

As a child, Sherry’s memories of her grandfather J.E. weren’t of the architectural plans he reviewed, the job sites he visited, or the structures he helped build. They were the simple joys of any granddaughter and grandfather: spending the night at her grandparents’ house and eating breakfast in the morning, plinking out a few tunes on their piano, and standing on “Bop’s” feet while dancing along to records. 

All of J.T.’s children loved music. Sherry’s brothers worked in Nashville’s music industry, leaving for stretches at a time to tour or play gigs out of town. When they were in Nashville, they would work part-time at Crain, Tommy as a draftsman and Billy as a janitor. 

Sherry also loved music, working at a local stereo shop, Morris Sound Center, in Hundred Oaks Mall. But a dramatic event changed the course of Sherry’s life and her future: a serious car accident. Initially, Sherry continued working at Morris, and the store’s owner retrofitted the store so that she could access it in a wheelchair. With her life turned upside down, Sherry began considering new options for her future.   

“I decided to go to school and asked Dad if he’d hire me once I learned more about construction. In 1978, I graduated with an associate’s degree in building and construction and then joined Dad at Crain.”

Sherry’s Crain Construction family was always supportive and trusted her expertise in many areas throughout her 35-year career. 

 

The Crain Years 

When Sherry started at Crain, she worked with Charles Gill, a whip-smart man who corrected architects, perfected plans, and was never satisfied with “good enough.” Whether Crain was building strip malls or luxury hotels, he demanded the same integrity of design and commitment to excellence. His approach typified Crain’s approach to commercial construction. Sherry, a new graduate, was learning the ropes as a woman in the construction industry, an unusual phenomenon in the 1970s.  

“There were hardly any women in construction. Very few women even came to the office, if any. The only women around were our bookkeeper and our secretary. But the men in Crain’s office were way more accepting than most men at the time.” 

Over the next 35 years, Sherry would become an integral part of the company, working alongside Lewis Rankin to expand Crain’s reach, size, and the company’s impact on Nashville‘s skyline.

“I started working in the strip center phase. The first job that I drew up and worked on was in Crossville on Cumberland Square. By the time I left, the business had gone from strip centers to car dealerships, warehouses, and hotels.”

Sherry’s father J.T. Crain had expanded Crain into commercial construction, a prescient move that set the company up for success as Nashville grew. When J.T. retired and Lewis Rankin headed up operations, the company continued to grow in size and reach. 

Crain also took on many complex projects and continued to deepen the professional relationships with architects, subcontractors, and repeat clients. 

 

Closing A Chapter  

Crain Construction had expanded dramatically by the time Sherry left in 2013. She started the same year that Opryland opened. So when she retired after 35 years, Nashville was a very different city from when she started.

Sherry’s father passed away the same year Sherry retired. Today, she looks back on her time with Crain fondly. Sherry says while she loved the job, it’s the relationships she formed at Crain that will always hold a special place in her heart. 

“Everyone there knew each other’s family. It was very family-oriented, always. It remains the same today, and I hope it never changes.”

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